Notes from the back row 

Film Fest rules

Strong local showing at the TWSSF Filmmaker showdown this year. Out of 10 finalists six films were made by Whistler crews including perennial favourite Robjn Taylor, technical master Christopher Smith and four-time finalist Al Crawford. Social commentary was big this year as well as Miles Wilkenson and his crew shed a new, musical light on the Whistler housing situation, and Liz Thompson and Andrea Helleman delivered a garbage/recycling movie about how plastic is ruining the world. Les Anthony's hero-worship film about Rob Boyd was also phenomenal but in the end there could be only one and this year the big check went Vancouver's Johnny Fleet and his crew, assembled from all over the Sea to Sky corridor. Their utterly fantastic musical about the joys and perils of life in Blackcomb Staff Housing stole the show.

All these films will be kicking around town for the next few weeks and everyone should do their best to track them down and support local film. The Telus Fest might be slowing down a bit (who booked the Led Zepplin cover bands back to back?) but the Filmmaker Showdown is still going strong and was once again one of the best nights of the year. Local Filmmakers rule and the scene up here is tighter than a gnome's foreskin.

In the theatre this week, the Village 8 is opening Fighting, a gritty street fighting flick with a few romantic interludes tossed in. Terrence Howard ( Crash, Iron Man) stars as the wise New Yorker who introduces Midwestern boy Channing Tatum to the world of underground brawling and, of course, there is a lesson to be learned in there as well. A slick genre flick, Fighting has what it needs to succeed - good fight sequences that should draw the ever-growing UFC crowd. It's also a date movie for people who don't mind seeing a little blood and a few loose teeth.

Also opening Friday is Obsessed , one of those tense sexual dramas about a thirsty office temp who sees the corporate world as a hunting ground and sets her sights on some poor dude who's already got a hot wife played by Beyonce. They weren't releasing any pre-screenings of this one (always a bad sign) but in the trailer Beyonce looks good, and while Obsessed attempts to play that Fatal Attraction card it's a PG-13 flick and most likely won't have enough sexual content to carry it. Too bad, this had potential.

Jean Claude Van Damme also had potential. He was one of the best martial arts movie stars from my youth but his films were mostly straight-to-video. Well the Muscles From Brussels is proving himself as more than just an ass-kicker in JCVD , an arthouse flick for the self-reflexive, post-modern crowd.

Van Damme plays an aging, down-and-out action star at the end of his rope who gets tied up in a hostage situation that could be straight out of one of his movies. There are plenty of solid, single-shot action sequences and loads of in-jokes for all the Van Damme fans out there but the raddest thing about JCVD is Van Damme himself, who shows a sudden depth of acting talent and lays down one of the weirdest and awesomest deadpan monologues of recent movie history. Steven Seagal's got nothing on this.

Also on DVD (it's been out for a while), is the disappointing Biggie Smalls biopic Notorious. It's too bad because Biggie was one of the most-liked, most talented rappers of all time and this flick is a disaster - basically a whole movie comprised of those clichéd acting/skits that you skip over on hip hop albums. A disservice to the memory of one of Hip Hop's best, and if you don't know, now ya know.

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